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Need help Building a PVR
October 18, 2007 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning on building a PVR and need advice on TV card, PC and the PVR software.

Hi All,

I'm planning on building a PVR and have some questions. I have looked in these places.
1 http://www.byopvr.com/
2 http://ask.metafilter.com/28294/How-to-record-tv-on-my-PC
3 http://ask.metafilter.com/51757/Recommendations-for-a-TV-Tuner-Capture-Card
4 http://ask.metafilter.com/72954/Help-me-find-the-best-TV-tuner-card-for-my-setup
5 http://lifehacker.com/software/dvr/screenshot-tour-roll-your-own-dvr-and-media-center-with-mediaportal-244343.php
6 http://lifehacker.com/software/dvr/hack-attack-build-your-own-dvr-165963.php
7 http://www.makezine.com/extras/4.html

TV Card
1. For the TV card I'm looking at Hauppauge products. I know that PVR-500 is the only card with dual tuners. But what is the difference in other cards. (150, 150MCE, 150LP, 250, 250MCE, 350)

2. Which would be better an Internal card or an external USB device?

3. Which would be better, 2 single tuner cards or one dual tuner card ? (I'm planning on buying used from ebay.)

4. Should I buy NTSC or PAL? (I think USA is NTSC, but anyway I'll ask just to be sure)

5. My TV is a regular Toshiba CRT TV. How do I connect the TV to the PC? This image[http://img231.imageshack.us/img231/6471/pvr500epbgpc7.jpg] of PVR-500 shows Composite Video In [Yellow port] and Audio In [white and Red ports]. I have similar ports in my TV which I use to connect the DVD player.
Can I connect the TV to TV card using these ports [similar to connecting a DVD player]? [I also have a S-Video port in the TV.]
If the TV card doesn't have such A/V ports do I need to buy a VGA card with A/V ports?
If so whenever I change from TV to Video on my TV can I see the computer desktop on my TV?

PC
6. Currently I don't have a PC for this and I'm planning on buying a used one. [Looking for something above 2GHz] Any advise on the PC?

7. I could find a Celleron 500MHz PC for free. Will it do the job? probably not :-)

PVR software
8. I'm torn between MediaPortal and GB-PVR. Any advice?

9. Planning on using Schedule Direct for TV guide. Any better/free sources?

10. Any advice on plugins for skipping commercials and Intelligent program suggestions.

Any other tips and tricks welcome!
Thanks in advance
posted by WizKid to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
I currently have a living room PVR that runs SageTV on top of Windows XP on a PC with 1GB of RAM and an AthlonXP 3200 CPU with a Hauppauge PVR-350. It just barely keeps up with HD recording, but its ancestor was a 1.0Ghz Celeron with 512 MB of RAM and that performed fine for standard definition recording.

So, pertinent to question 7, I think that a Celeron 500 might work, so long as you get an internal tuner card with a built in decoding chip. That will take much of the load off your CPU and allow you to get away with shallower specs.

With regards to connecting to your TV, a lot of mid-level video cards will have some flavor of S-Video tv-out, but the Hauppauge PVR-350 card also has a TV-out connector as well. If you have a video-card with a TV-out, then you can see the computer desktop on your TV, but it will look like ass compared to a monitor due to the relatively low resolution of a standard definition TV. If you use the TV out on the tuner card, it might look a little better than the tv-out on the video card, but you will likely only see images on the TV when the computer is actively encoding video; and you won't see your desktop.

Incidentally, if you use the TV out on the tuner card, you can not use it to watch DVDs played on your PC as the tuner card won't support video overlay from an external peripheral.

You want an NTSC card if you live in North America.
posted by bl1nk at 10:09 AM on October 18, 2007


Incidentally, if you get your TV via digital cable, and if your company is nice enough to send their video signals unencrypted (ie. RCN in the Northeast) then you can feasibly just record video by plugging a firewire cable into your cable box and connecting that to your PC to record the digital video stream. I had that running in my old apartment, and it was awesome. Standard definition stuff looked great, and it was the only way to record high-definition cable content without succumbing to a Vista upgrade.

Now, I live in a neighborhood with encrypted cable and my PVR is but a pale shadow of its former self.
posted by bl1nk at 10:14 AM on October 18, 2007


Thanks for the reply.
One clarification and another question.
- I don't have HD cable. Just regular analog cable from the university.

11. If I connect a cable splitter and connect one line to the TV card and other line directly to the TV (similar to now) will I be able to watch TV normally (I mean without anything to do with PVR, just directly from the cable signal), while another show is been recorded in the PVR. (assuming I have a single tuner TV card)
posted by WizKid at 10:17 AM on October 18, 2007


1. I have a PVR-150 and a PVR-500

8. Pay for Sage TV. It's a great program
9. SageTV
10. Comskip with DirMon2 is what I use. Sage interfaces with it just fine (after using the appropriate plugin ofcourse). It's absolutely awesome.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 10:19 AM on October 18, 2007


I've tried MythTV, it's fun if you want to spend all your time trying to get it to work and tweaking it. I try it every year and it's still about 5 to 10 years behind the commercial products.

I've tried other TV timeshifting and recording programs. Not many are any good at all.

SageTV is the program I've been coming back to for years. It runs reliably and doesn't have subscription fees or directory issues for me. My PVR box has been running 24/7 for at least four years. The only reason it had major down time was because I rebuilt the box.

I'd go with the Hauppage 500 internal card and Sage TV bundle. You'll find that you want to record more than one show at a time more often than you'd think.

You want at least a terrabyte of disk space sett up in a nice fast striped RAID array. That's not an unreasonable in price these days.

Regardless of your hardware setup, I can't stress SageTV enough if you want to do is watch your shows and not fight with the software.
posted by Dillenger69 at 10:43 AM on October 18, 2007


1. For the TV card I'm looking at Hauppauge products. I know that PVR-500 is the only card with dual tuners. But what is the difference in other cards. (150, 150MCE, 150LP, 250, 250MCE, 350)

You probably already looked at this comparison page, but roughly speaking, the 150 has the same features as the 250 but is constructed more cheaply, the 350 adds hardware MPEG2 decoding (resulting in less CPU used during playback if you record in MPEG2 format) and an FM radio tuner, and the 500 is just two 150's on a single board. I am unsure if the MCE versions work fully with any software besides Windows Media Center.

I'd recommend the 150 / 500. The 250 provides no additional benefit, and to make full use of the 350 you limit the formats you can record in (requiring more disk space).

2. Which would be better an Internal card or an external USB device?

Internal. And Hauppauge is the best supported in just about all the PVR apps I've used.

3. Which would be better, 2 single tuner cards or one dual tuner card ? (I'm planning on buying used from ebay.)

Either. It just depends on how many PCI slots you have available / want to use.

4. Should I buy NTSC or PAL? (I think USA is NTSC, but anyway I'll ask just to be sure)

NTSC if you are in the US.

5. My TV is a regular Toshiba CRT TV. How do I connect the TV to the PC? This image [http://img231.imageshack.us/img231/6471/pvr500epbgpc7.jpg] of PVR-500 shows Composite Video In [Yellow port] and Audio In [white and Red ports]. I have similar ports in my TV which I use to connect the DVD player. Can I connect the TV to TV card using these ports [similar to connecting a DVD player]? [I also have a S-Video port in the TV.] If the TV card doesn't have such A/V ports do I need to buy a VGA card with A/V ports? If so whenever I change from TV to Video on my TV can I see the computer desktop on my TV?

You will need a new video card, or a VGA / S-video converter. A low-end video card will probably be cheaper, to be honest.

6. Currently I don't have a PC for this and I'm planning on buying a used one. [Looking for something above 2GHz] Any advise on the PC?

Unless you get a PVR-350 (which I wouldn't recommend), you'll probably want at least 2Ghz with 1GB of RAM if you intend to watch and record different channels at the same time.

7. I could find a Celleron 500MHz PC for free. Will it do the job? probably not :-)

Not with the 150 or 500, and I'd bet not with the 350 either.

8. I'm torn between MediaPortal and GB-PVR. Any advice

Are you limited to a specific OS? I've always liked MythTV, which runs on Linux. Another promising project to watch is Elisa, which should be multi-platform.

9. Planning on using Schedule Direct for TV guide. Any better/free sources?

Not anymore. Schedules Direct was actually created by MythTV and XMLTV members to fill that void, and have promised to only charge enough to cover costs - meaning your fee goes down as more people use it.

10. Any advice on plugins for skipping commercials and Intelligent program suggestions.

MythTV includes this functionality by default. I am not familiar enough with other PVR software.

11. If I connect a cable splitter and connect one line to the TV card and other line directly to the TV (similar to now) will I be able to watch TV normally (I mean without anything to do with PVR, just directly from the cable signal), while another show is been recorded in the PVR. (assuming I have a single tuner TV card)

Yes, assuming your cable signal is strong enough. For non-digital cable, you'll probably have no problems.

On Preview:

My experience is different than Dillenger69's. MythTV is remarkably easy to setup if you use an "official" pre-packaged version (with Ubuntu or Fedora Linux, for example). I also don't think it lags at all, and in many ways is ahead of the competition.
posted by chundo at 10:53 AM on October 18, 2007


For #5 I should be more clear - those ports on the 500 are inputs, not outputs, which is why you will need a separate video card to output to the TV. Only the 350 provides a video output.
posted by chundo at 11:27 AM on October 18, 2007


The Celeron 500 would work fine with recording and playback on the 350. I used a 350 on a Via C3 800MHz which is probably way slower than a Celeron and it was just fine.
posted by zsazsa at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2007


12. Can anyone suggest a good VGA card?
posted by WizKid at 1:27 PM on October 18, 2007


any card that has an S-Video output will be fine.

You aren't planning on running any 3D games on the computer, right? For displaying 2d video to a standard definition screen, video cards that were released five years ago can handle that without problem.

Specs change if you suddenly get an urge to play games, but it sounds like you're trying to lowball this build as much as possible -- in which case, if you decide to play games, you will be happier and less frustrated if you just bought an Xbox 360 to go along with your PVR.
posted by bl1nk at 2:04 PM on October 18, 2007


Nope... No games.
Only game I play is solitaire.

This would mainly be a dedicated PC for PVR and once in a while I may use it to backup my files.
posted by WizKid at 2:31 PM on October 18, 2007


When I first took the plunge and built my own I tried every open source software under the sun (and a few trials, BeyondTV and Sage). In the end I gave Windows Media Center a whirl and never looked back. Unless you have a LOT of spare time to spend tinkering I would recommend you invest a tiny bit of money in something commercial as far as the software goes. I just don't feel for me any of the free options were worth the time I spent trying to get them to run well.
posted by genial at 3:14 PM on October 18, 2007


The 350 has a built in TV out which you can use rather than getting a different video card, otherwise just get the cheapest card you can find, make sure it's nvidia if you are thinking about using mythtv. I use a fx5200.

The PVR150MCE us just an OEM version of the PVR150, intended to be sold to commercial system builders. Basically you just get the card without any of the software or remote controls or whatever that might come with other versions of the PVR150, and you save a bunch of money. That's what I use in my mythtv setup.

As mentioned, I use myth, I set it up once and haven't touched it since. Not sure what fiddling I should be doing that others have mentioned.
posted by markr at 3:16 PM on October 18, 2007


markr -- I initially tried to go with mythtv a few years ago, but found that, at the time, there was no ivtv support for the particular chipset running on my version of the PVR-350, and there wasn't likely one to be released in the near future. After a month or so at trying to hack out my own driver software, I thought "screw it" and just dusted off a WinXP license and installed a commercial operating system. Life's too short.

If one is lucky enough to have hardware support for everything that they own then, certainly, MythTV seems like a good option. I wasn't so fortunate at the time, and there isn't anything in Myth or Linux that compels me to switch back.
posted by bl1nk at 3:30 PM on October 18, 2007


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